I began the semester feeling very unsettled by the state of the world. I was unsettled by the rapid change in society, our mentality and ultimately, the metamorphose of a normality into something which was more distant, ruthless and disquieting. Due to the restrictions within the ECA, only being able to book studio spaces and workshops as well as the lack of storage, I had to find a new way to work, one which enabled me to transport and assemble smaller pieces with ease. In so doing, I felt that this, in itself, reflected social distancing; how, although we are all physically detached from one another, still come together and support each other using technology and online via various networking systems. As in my previous sculptures and taking inspiration from the animated works of Peter Fischli and David Weiss as well as Roman Signer, I aimed to continue anthropomorphising found neglected objects and occupying space in a way which explored how we do ourselves. I aimed to create a piece which reflected unsuccessful attempts at containment, looking at the wider and more general containment of society and the pandemic by authorities, as well as the more personal and insular containment of anxiety and panic within ourselves.
In a scrap yard I found some gas canisters. It was not obvious to me whether they were empty or still full of gas, but I thought by connecting them haphazardly with tubes or pipes in some way would provide a metaphor for attempts at containment. Perhaps it would deter and unsettle the viewer, making them uncertain as to whether these hazardous canisters containing flammable gas would burst or set alight if provoked. Furthermore, separating them with pipes would reminisce further on social distancing.
Taking inspiration from Alicia Kwade’s work, particularly ParaPivot, in how she separated each element with steel rods, I began to make a series of initial sketches to explore how I could attach the canisters and compose the piece. Inspired by Fischli and Weiss, especially their Equilibres, I balanced the canisters and experimented containing them with mesh (which in itself seemed to me a humorous image- a flimsy attempt at containing a gas leak). I wrote the word ‘breathe’ on to one of the gas canisters to produce a metaphor for the one of the symptoms of coronavirus where one is not able to breathe (breathing in the gas could prove fatal) and the misleading advice from the government. Additionally, breathing is a way to calm down when suffering from anxiety or panic.
However, I felt that I needed to take this further and booked myself in to the metal workshop to start welding the canisters together using metal pipes. In order to do so, I had to purge some of the canisters by drilling holes in the bottom and filling them with water to force the gas out. I then learnt how to weld, cut and drill in to metal to make a series of attachments which would enable the sculpture to be taken apart and assembled easily. It proved a very meticulous process, involving a lot of trial and error. I had to measure certain pipes to ensure each separate piece slotted together tightly in order for the sculpture to balance and stand without support at the end.
Once the sculpture was almost finished, I contemplated means of presentation, thinking about using opaque or transparent doors or shower curtains which would envelope the piece, to further infer flimsy attempts of containment. I also recorded two sounds; one where I knocked the canisters and the other where I rolled them on the ground. I then enhanced them with reverbs and echos. These would be played on repeat alongside the sculpture, producing an all-consuming, anxiety inducing and unsettling atmosphere.
I loved the haphazard look of the final piece. It gave the impression it had been assembled desperately, making the viewers unsure as to whether the welding and screwing had been sufficient enough to contain the gas and thus uncertain as to whether they should follow the scribbled word on one of the canisters and, ‘breathe’. It seems as though the maker is aware of this, using a flimsy shower curtain in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the spread of gas. The gas canisters seem to float in space, frozen in motion, supporting each other whilst remaining separate, reminiscing social distancing. The encompassing sound seems to be the result of what is being contained in the piece- perhaps the pressure from the gas or something more animated- perhaps a robot or animal banging against the canister walls and attempting to get out? The whole piece seems both certain and uncertain in its simultaneous stability and instability. Certainly, I feel as though it produces a relatable visual metaphor of both ourselves and wider society in how we have dealt with the current pandemic in particular.